Vermont Rejects Delta Air Lines' Effort to End Complaint by Breast-feeding Mom

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The state Human Rights Commission refused to dismiss a complaint from a woman who says she was thrown off a flight because she was breast-feeding her baby.

Last October, a flight attendant had a gate agent order passenger Emily Gillette off a plane that was about to take off from Burlington International Airport. Gillette lives in New Mexico.

Freedom Airlines, operating the commuter flight for Delta Air Lines, said at the time that Gillette had been offered a blanket to cover up but refused it.

The airlines said in filings at the commission that Gillette was invited back onto the plane, but refused. Gillette maintains she was not given permission to reboard.

Freedom and Delta both argued the complaint should be dismissed because federal aviation laws pre-empt the state anti-discrimination complaint, and Delta argued it was not responsible because the flight attendant was not a Delta employee.

Robert Appel, executive director of the commission, said the federal laws do not pre-empt Vermont's Public Accommodations Act.

Gillette's lawyer, Elizabeth Boepple, expressed surprise that the airlines were continuing to fight the case, given that both have said they allow breast-feeding on planes.

"They could have taken the opportunity to say what happened is wrong and was really a significant mistake on the part of an airline employee," Boepple said.

Freedom and its parent company, Mesa Air Group, told the commission that employees had been reminded of the policy on breast-feeding on planes.

If the Human Rights Commission concludes that discrimination may have occurred, it urges the parties to reach a settlement. If no settlement can be reached, the commission can represent the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit.